360° video: Platforms, production and performance

Brightwave’s graphic designer and chief drone pilot Brad Pinhorn looks at 360° video. This complex, immersive photographic innovation has huge potential benefits for creating learning scenarios where complex real-world data can be modelled and rehearsed – but how should we use it? Where should we use it? And what do we need to know when planning to make the most of it?

For me, 360° video is unquestionably at its best when it’s used with a VR headset. I’m still yet to see something that blows me away or fully engages me when it’s on a desktop or phone in front of me.

The novelty of click-and-drag to view the video in all its panoramic-goodness wears off pretty quick and I find myself bored by the necessity to do this to view the important parts of the video. Without a more immersive and ‘natural’ interface such as provided by VR, complicated 360° scenes can cause problems, reducing clarity, raising confusion, and adding little extra value in comparison to ‘traditional’ interactive video.

An exception to that rule is a video I recently viewed from Diageo called ‘Decisions’. This short film is based around the consequences of drink-driving, and whilst engaging on desktop, I still found myself taken out of the moment by having to click and drag to look around the ever-evolving scene. But viewing the video with a headset, in this case one as inexpensive and accessible as Google Cardboard, was a completely different story. I was suddenly fully ‘in’ the video, locked away from the world around me, feeling the full power of the story.

And this is where 360° video is at its strongest…to fully engage users and put them inside any scenario you choose can be immensely powerful, without this I find I’m still outside of the scenario looking in.

Is there a real place for 360° video on desktop?

Well, yes…. Probably! As I’ve said, I’m not entirely convinced by viewing it this way, but that’s not to say there’s no place for it.

Perhaps using a cinemagraph or looping video in a set scene with various points to interact with would work well. Maybe the reason I’m disengaged with it is because all the videos have been made with a VR headset in mind and thus are quite long. What if a 360° degree video was made purely for use on desktop? Keep it short; add some interactions with a clear purpose and then maybe then we’d start to see more potential here.

There are other possibilities to consider. Maybe 360° is too much, what if we made a 180° video? Or 270°? Keep everything we need to see in front of us and negate the need for the tiresome click and drag, just to look behind us and end up missing out on the important action in front. How often do you spin around and look behind you when you are walking around outside? Hopefully not that often, it tends to make you look a bit, well, odd…

The more you start to think about it the more ideas come to mind, the more applications it can be applied to, the more stories can be told with it. It would be very easy to get a little carried away and try and find a use for 360° video whenever video is mentioned. But I think it’s important to only use it in special cases, cases where a stronger message needs to be given, cases where you need to put the viewer/learner directly into a scenario, cases where a higher level of engagement is required.

What do we need to know when working with 360° video?

The short and the long answer to this question is: Everything. Yes, everything. When shooting normal video, you usually have one field of view. Perhaps there’s a few cameras and angles, but ultimately everything on side A of the cameras is in the shot and on film, everything on side B is behind the cameras and won’t be seen. With 360° video everything is in the shot, everything in front, behind, to the side. Everything. This can obviously add time to a shoot, but that time can be saved in that, usually, you’ll only need one shot per scene, as there’s only ‘one’ camera.

This also helps with edit times, where with traditional video you may have 3 or 4 different angles, and thus you’ll need to edit these cuts together, colour grade each one individually and so on; for 360° degree video it’s just one shot, so most of that can be pushed aside. In this way, the advantages and difficulties of 360° production arguably balance themselves out in the long run.

It’s also vitally important to make sure you are thinking about narrative and drama in all directions at once, and to keep the pacing correct. Imagine, for example, you have a story being played out; you’re following someone as they say/do things in front of you. What if you happen to be looking behind you when they do something you need to see? If the pacing is correct and the scene is well managed, this should minimise the problem, but they’re things you have to consider. If your video is specifically for learning, then is the user-control of 360° really a benefit? Isn’t it more important that the viewer is looking where you want them to, for a crucial piece of information?

Ultimately, a lot of the potential problems can be solved early on in the planning stages by giving full consideration to the way a piece is written and directed –from the pacing, to the staging, and most importantly, how it engages the viewer. If written and planned well, a 360° video can be one of the most engaging and immersive forms of media, one that will grab the attention of the viewer immediately and keep them there until the end. And the best way to do this, in my opinion, is with the use of a VR headset.

What that implies practically for the way we design and deliver learning for the workplace is something we’ll be exploring in part two of our 360° blog next week…

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